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William Hedley
MusicWeb International, April 2011

This performance is given by the original television cast, and they are all excellent, though a contemporary cast would probably assume the roles in a less overtly “operatic” manner. Chet Allen is very fine, and his words are remarkably clear. This is just as well, as the booklet contains a detailed, track by track synopsis but no libretto.

I haven’t heard the original LPs, but I suspect producer Mark Obert-Thorn has worked miracles with them. A note in the booklet explains the limitations of the original material, and there are certainly moments, particularly in the later scenes, where the sound is none too pleasant. Thomas Schippers, who championed the composer, conducts a brisk performance.

Menotti’s ballet, Sebastian, was first produced in New York in 1944. The Suite recorded here is in six sections played without a break. There are a few oriental touches, not unlike those to be found in Amahl, and which presumably refer to the title character who is a Moorish slave. His name is well chosen: he dies following multiple arrow shots which he has contrived to receive in place of the intended victim, the woman he loves with no hope of a future. He thus selflessly saves her life, leaving the way clear for another suitor. The music is immediately attractive, and though there are dramatic passages, it is melodious and graceful to the point that one is surprised to read the rather bloodthirsty and dramatic scenario. Like Amahl, it is highly tonal, the only real excursion into chromaticism coming, rather predictably, in the movement entitled “Street Fight”. The final section, “Pavane”, is particularly attractive, with some individual and surprising melodic turns. The performance seems to be a fine one, as one would expect from members of the Philadelphia Orchestra—merry men, all—under Mitropoulos.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

America’s fledgling ‘NBC Television Opera Theatre’ screened the premiere of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors on Christmas Eve 1951 to an estimated five million viewers. That enormous success was jumped upon by NBC’s parent company, RCA, who rushed out a recording with the same cast to the awaiting market. Those two events were to make this a Christmas evergreen that continues to this day, the story relating the journey of The Three Kings to see the newly born Christ child. Onto that biblical story is superimposed their chance arrival at the home of the crippled boy, Amahl. Much to his mother’s disbelief he tells her that there are three Kings at the door. She welcomes them to her home and, as the story unfolds, Amahl is miraculously restored to normal health and joins them on their pilgrimage. In one act, and requiring only a chamber instrumental group and a small cast, it has become popular and is well within the scope of amateur ensembles. It has received a number of recordings including a highly regarded studio recording on Naxos. But there is something special about this performance that is difficult to quantify, though Chet Allen’s eager voiced Amahl is a major bonus, while Andrew McKinley, David Aiken and Leon Lishner are a most likeable trio of Kings. Rosemary Kuhlmann is a more sympathetic mother than we often hear, and Thomas Schippers conducts a very good studio orchestra. The sound was never outstanding even by 1950’s standards, but it is adequate. To complete the disc we have Menotti’s suite rescued from the failed ballet, Sebastian. It is here recorded in 1946 by the Philadelphia Orchestra under its summer festival name, the sound being a little short on impact. Both transfers are excellent and come from original LP’s.

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